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CFL  

Oliveira looks south, Blue Bombers face questions after Grey Cup loss

WINNIPEG — Brady Oliveira wants to head south this winter, but not for a vacation.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers star running back said Tuesday that his agent is talking to NFL teams to try to get him workouts, parlaying the personal success he had this CFL season into achieving another dream.

“Playing here is a dream but the NFL stuff, ever since I started playing football was to play at the highest possible level,” Oliveira said as the Blue Bombers cleaned out their lockers after Sunday’s still-stinging 28-24 Grey Cup loss to the Montreal Alouettes.

That doesn’t mean he wouldn’t come back if things don't pan out.

“If the NFL doesn’t work out, I want to be here in Winnipeg,” Oliveira said.

The Winnipeg-born pending free agent was named the CFL’s top Canadian and was runner-up for most outstanding player in his second season as the club’s starter.

Oliveira, 26, led the league in rushing with 1,534 yards – the second-highest total by a Canadian in league history after Jon Cornish ran for 1,813 yards with the Calgary Stampeders in 2013.

The five-foot-10, 222-pound tailback recorded nine touchdowns along the ground and also caught 38 passes for 482 yards and four touchdowns.

“The last two seasons that I’ve put together I think were good, good enough to get what I deserve, right?” Oliveira said.

“But we’ll see. You never really know, but I definitely want to be here if they bring the right core group back together.”

Oliveira rushed for 1,001 yards and four TDs in 2022 and added 252 receiving yards with one TD.

The Blue Bombers may be in a bit of a quandary about negotiating with players as general manager Kyle Walters is working on an expiring contract.

Walters told reporters during Grey Cup week in Hamilton that he expected his future to be sorted out shortly after the season. He said he’d love to remain with the Bombers, a team he joined in 2013 as interim GM before being promoted the following year.

The Bombers (14-4) had been trying to win their third Grey Cup in four years and redeem themselves after a 24-23 loss to the Toronto Argonauts in 2022. They hoisted the trophy in 2019 and 2021.

A lot of players from that four-year run are pending free agents, including 32-year-old defensive ends Willie Jefferson and Jackson Jeffcoat.

“I want to be back in Winnipeg. I love it here,” said Jeffcoat, who’s played six seasons for the Bombers.

“But we've got to see how negotiations go and how all that goes. We've got to hire a GM here, so we've got to figure that out first."

Jeffcoat played 14 games because of injuries and registered 21 defensive tackles, eight quarterback sacks and three forced fumbles.

“I check out everything,” Jeffcoat said when asked if he’s thought about retirement. “I’m not saying no to it, but it’s not at the top of my mind right now.”

Jefferson, who lives year-round in Winnipeg with his family, said he “most definitely” wants to return for a fifth season. The fan favourite recorded 21 tackles, 11 sacks and three forced fumbles in 17 games.

Star receiver Dalton Schoen is also a pending free agent. He suffered an ankle injury Oct. 6 and only stepped on the field again in the Grey Cup. He caught three passes for 36 yards.

He and veteran middle linebacker Adam Bighill, who injured a calf in the West Division Final win over the B.C. Lions on Nov. 11, were game-time decisions for the championship match.

Bighill said he believed it was the right decision to let him play in the Grey Cup, especially because the plan was for him to play a role, not every snap.

“I think we executed that,” said Bighill, 35, who has one more year on his contract.

What didn’t work out was a third-quarter play that led to a Montreal touchdown. Bighill couldn’t keep up with Cole Spieker on his 23-yard catch-and-run into the end zone that narrowed Winnipeg’s lead to 17-14.

Bighill said there was miscommunication on that play that Montreal exploited.

It was one of a number of plays the Bombers wish they could have back, including quarterback Zach Collaros being intercepted by Kabion Ento in the end zone and Montreal driving down the field for Tyson Philpot’s game-winning TD with 13 seconds left.

“That’s one that will haunt me for a long time,” Collaros said of the end-zone pick. “If I had to do it again, I’d probably just want to hand the football off."

Collaros, who’s signed through 2025 when Winnipeg hosts the Grey Cup, said the loss is still hard to process but head coach Mike O’Shea gave players some words of wisdom in a team meeting.

“Just trying to help us in this moment, with the understanding that there’s a lot of really good men here you can lean on, to the days of joy that you stack up during the season working together,” Collaros said.

“It’s hard to find.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 21, 2023.



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